PARIS, FRANCE – Nineteen-time French champions Toulouse came from behind to beat Oyonnax 20-19 and book their place in next weekend’s Top 14 semi finals in Bordeaux.
The cheers ringing round at the end of what has turned out to be coach Guy Noves final match at Stade Ernest Wallon were edged with relief. Oyonnax, undeserving recipients of the epithets “minnows” or “underdogs” in the run-up to the weekend’s second “Barrage” match, had the measure of their opponents for much of the game.
Noves was on Sunday named the successor to France coach Philippe Saint-Andre. He will take over on November 1, the day after the Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham.
With six minutes left on the clock, the richest club in Europe were four points behind the side from the Ain, whose budget for this year was less than half their illustrious opponents, when replacement prop Cyril Baille crashed over in the corner.
Toby Flood, who had scored the rest of Toulouse’s points, fired the conversion wide – but it would not matter. They held on to set up a semi-final clash against European Champions Cup runners-up Clermont at the new 42,000-seat Stade de Bordeaux.
Toulouse’s late try came at the end of a period of exponentially mounting pressure. Roared on by most of the crowd, the star-studded Stadistes hammered into the never-say-die Oyonnax defence.
But, eventually, something had to give – and Baille found himself with the ball out wide, and in enough space to dive over.
For 30 minutes, however, the visitors had the upper hand. They were 9-3 down when prop-sized centre Hemani Paea exploded from the back of another ruck inches from the Toulouse line to score in the 38th minute. Fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta slotted the conversion to take Oyonnax into halftime 10-9 up.
The try came after they had turned down a penalty shot at goal, despite missing scrum-half Fabien Cibray, who was in the sin-bin. Instead they kicked for the corner. After a torrid opening few minutes, their forwards were on the front foot. From 5m out, they believed, they could crash over.
It was not so straightforward. They started to claim a try – but had touched down on the 5m line. Then prop Antoine Tichit appeared to get the ball down at the base of the posts, but he reset the ball for Paea to make certain.
It was no less than Oyonnax deserved. It was more than they could have hoped for. Early in the first period, they would probably have accepted being just six points behind at the break, as Toulouse brought the full fury of the storm.
Somehow, Oyonnax weathered the early blows. And, as they clock ticked on, they dragged themselves back into the game. Urdapilleta was so close with a snapshot drop-goal attempt that referee Jerome Garces had to check with the video referee.
Toulouse were fortunate, too. What looked like a deliberate trip was punished only with a penalty, when the rules of the game demand a red card. It was that sort of game.
Two more penalties from Urdapilleta in the opening 10 minutes of the second half allowed Oyonnax to open up a seven point lead. Despite a disappointing all-round performance, Flood managed to keep Toulouse in the hunt with his five penalties – until Baille’s final word.
Stade cruise into last four
Less than 24 hours earlier, Stade Francais outclassed local rivals Racing Metro 38-15 in front of the home fans at Stade Jean Bouin to set up a semi-final showdown against defending Top 14 champions Toulon in Bordeaux.
It was a perfect 10 for Stade’s long-time misfit Morne Steyn. He finally, belatedly, proved his worth, slotting eight penalties and two conversions to keep the Parisian aristocrats – in their first appearance in the Top 14 knockout phases since 2009 – in the hunt for their 14th French championship crown.
Waisea Nayacalevu scored the game’s opening try after 10 minutes and a penalty try after 34 minutes following the sin-binning of Racing’s prop Luc Ducalcon put the hosts almost out of sight.
An excellent score from scrum-half Maxime Machenaud just before the break gave Racing hope, with the scores at 17-7 at the break.
In what would turn out to be their last games for Racing, centre Jamie Roberts – a Harlequin next season – touched down on 67 minutes, while Leinster-bound fly-half Jonathan Sexton added a penalty and a conversion, but it was never going to be enough, as Steyn kicked Stade Francais out of sight.
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